June 23, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Hafsa Khalil, Jeevan Ravindran, Aditi Sangal, Ed Upright and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 2:43 a.m. ET, June 24, 2022
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7:34 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Moscow says there's "no hidden agenda" in cuts to gas supplies

From CNN's Anna Chernova

A worker walks underneath a raised section of pipework at the compressor station in Ihtiman, Bulgaria, on June 15.
A worker walks underneath a raised section of pipework at the compressor station in Ihtiman, Bulgaria, on June 15. (Hristo Rusev/Getty Images)

Cuts in Russian gas supplies to Europe are explained by technical issues with turbines, rather than political reasons, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday, adding there was “no hidden agenda.”

Russia remains a reliable gas supplier and strictly fulfils all its obligations, Peskov told reporters on a regular conference call.

However, issues with the maintenance of Gazprom turbines in Europe have caused lower supplies, he added. “It's strange to drag politics into everything,” Peskov also said.

Russia's state energy giant Gazprom cut flows through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany by 60% last week, blaming the move on Europe decision to withhold vital turbines due to sanctions. 

Europe has been widely affected by Russia limiting its gas deliveries. On Thursday, Germany declared the second phase of its three-stage emergency plan for natural gas supplies. German Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck said "gas is from now on in short supply in Germany," and the country is currently “in an economic confrontation with Russia."

7:25 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Armored vehicles donated by Australia are now en-route to Ukraine

From Yulia Kesaieva

The first batch of 14 Australian M113AS4 armoured personnel carriers donated to Ukraine is already en-route, the country’s ambassador to Kyiv said Thursday.

“Australia has committed over [Australian] $285 million ($196 million) in military assistance to Ukraine to support [the Ukrainian military] counter Russia's illegal invasion,” Ambassador Bruce Edwards tweeted on Thursday. “The first batch of M113AS4 armoured personnel carriers departed Australia last week.”

The Australian government’s military assistance package consists of Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicles, M777 Howitzers, anti-armor weapons, ammunition, unmanned aerial systems and a range of personal equipment.

7:20 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Russian foreign minister blames Kyiv for grain crisis

From CNN's Anna Chernova

(Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)
(Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)

The Ukrainian grain export crisis would have already been resolved had Kyiv and its Western allies demined the Black sea ports, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a press conference following talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian Thrusday.

“The attempts of Turkey and the UN Secretary-General would have been successful long ago had Ukraine and its Western masters resolved the issue of demining in the Black sea,” Lavrov said.

“Attempts to organize an international coalition for demining ports in the Black Sea are aimed solely at intervening in the affairs of the Black Sea region under the auspices of the UN,” Lavrov added.

Earlier on Thursday, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Thursday it is "urgent" to solve the Ukraine grain crisis within the next month to avoid "devastating" consequences.

Speaking in Ankara alongside Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Truss once again accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of "weaponizing hunger" and stressed that if this difficult situation is not resolved, it will likely lead to "a huge hunger across the globe."

"He [Putin] blocked the Ukrainian ports and is stopping 20 million tones of grain being exported across the globe, holding the world to ransom," Truss said, who is in Turkey to discuss the plan to get the grain out, supported by the UN.

7:12 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Russian gas supply cuts have hit 12 countries, says EU climate chief 

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite and James Frater in London

Pipe systems and shut-off devices at the gas receiving station of the Nord Stream 1 Baltic Sea pipeline in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Lubmin, Germany, on June 21
Pipe systems and shut-off devices at the gas receiving station of the Nord Stream 1 Baltic Sea pipeline in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Lubmin, Germany, on June 21 (Stefan Sauer/picture alliance/Getty Images)

Twelve European Union countries have been affected by cuts to the gas supply from Russia, the EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans said on Thursday.

"Russia has weaponized energy, and we have seen further gas disruptions announced in recent days. All this is part of Russia's strategy to undermine our unity," Timmermans said in the European Parliament.

"In total twelve Member States are now affected by Russian unilateral supply cuts. Ten Member States have issued an early warning under the gas security of supply regulation," he said. 

"The risk of full gas disruption is now more real than ever before," he stressed, adding this is why it is important to adopt gas storage regulation alongside other measures of preparedness.

The twelve EU countries that are partially or totally affected by Russian gas disruptions are: Lithuania, Bulgaria, Poland, Germany, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, France, Austria, Czech Republic and Slovakia.

The EU countries that have issued early warning declarations as a precautionary move are: Italy (26/02), Latvia (09/03), Croatia (25/04), Germany (30/03), Austria (30/03), Finland (06/05), Estonia (18/05), Denmark (20/06), the Netherlands (20/06) and Sweden (21/06).

Germany has just announced, and informed the EU Commission, that it is moving to step 2 of the EU SoS regulation, the “alert” level, a EU Commission spokesperson told CNN via email.

The “early warning” is the lowest level of crisis notification under the bloc's Gas Security of Supply Regulation, accelerating the monitoring and information exchange requirements in the Member State concerned. According to this regulation, the natural gas undertakings concerned shall make technical information available, on a daily basis, to the competent authority of the Member State.

6:57 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Zelensky says joining EU is Ukraine's chosen future

From CNN's Radina Gigova in London

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday that EU membership is Ukraine's "choice of our future vision."

"Today or tomorrow, and I know you know this, we have a big chance to receive a candidate status for EU membership," Zelensky said during a questions and answers session following his virtual address to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

"Ukraine has made its own choice, ... a future closer to the European Union and soon we will be part of that family. We have sacrificed a lot for that," he said. "But most importantly, this is our choice -- choice of our future vision."

Zelensky said after the war ends, Ukraine will focus on "building a European state which will be part of the EU" but the threat from Russia will remain.

"We will understand very clearly that our neighbor is Russia, and that Russia, even if we finish the war and we win, in 10 or 20 years Russia may attack us again. I am not saying that this will happen, but there is a possibility."

Zelensky said developing Ukraine's security institutions will be an important part of the rebuilding process. "Security in all public spaces -- starting from the borders of our country down to the very center," he said.

"We have prepared a lot of draft laws, a lot of reforms," he added.

6:19 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

UK applies new round of trade sanctions on Russia 

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy in Dublin

The UK government has imposed a tranche of new trade sanctions on Russia, placing prohibitions on the export of a range of goods to Russia.

Details of the sanctions which were imposed Wednesday were posted in an update on the UK government website Thursday morning. 

The UK government announced prohibitions on the export of "internal repression goods and technology, goods and technology relating to chemical and biological weapons, maritime goods and technology, additional oil refining goods and technology, additional critical industry goods and technology."

The export of jet fuel and fuel additives to Russia was also prohibited as part of the new sanctions, the update announced. 

Finally, a prohibition was placed on the export of Sterling or European Union denominated bank notes to Russia, according to the update. 

The UK government responded to Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24 by immediately imposing sanctions on the same day.

Recent hits to Russia's imports came when Lithuania announced banning the passage of sanctioned goods through their territory from Kaliningrad -- Russia's enclave on the Baltic coast -- which has the support of the EU behind it.

6:45 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

The battle for Lysychansk and Severodonetsk has "entered its climax": Ukrainian presidential adviser

From CNN's Olga Voitovych

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the head of the Ukrainian President's Office, said on national television that "the fight for Lysychansk and Severodonetsk has entered its climax."

This phase looks terrifying from a military point of view," he said.

Arestovych compared the situation to the "18th round" of a boxing bout. "Any side that sends two battalions of artillery there wins this fight. Let's see who sends. Who has [those battalions] -- only the military command on both sides knows."

5:46 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Ukraine's grain crisis must be solved in a month to avoid "devastating consequences": UK minister

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite in London

Britain's Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, left, and Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu give a joint press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ankara, Turkey, on June 23.
Britain's Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, left, and Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu give a joint press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ankara, Turkey, on June 23. (Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images)

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Thursday it is "urgent" to solve the Ukraine grain crisis within the next month to avoid a "devastating" outcome.

Speaking in Ankara alongside Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Truss once again accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of "weaponizing hunger" and stressed that if this difficult situation is not resolved, it will likely lead to "a huge hunger across the globe."

"He [Putin] blocked the Ukrainian ports and is stopping 20 million tones of grain being exported across the globe, holding the world to ransom," said Truss, who is in Turkey to discuss the plan to get the grain out, supported by the United Nations.

"We are clear the commercial vessels need to have safe passage to be able to leave Ukrainian ports, and that Ukrainian ports should be protected from Russian attacks," she said, adding that, "Russia cannot be allowed to delay and prevaricate."

We are very clear that this grain crisis is urgent and it needs to be solved within the next month, otherwise we could see devastating consequences," Truss said.
5:41 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Ukraine faces an urgent dilemma in Luhansk: take on Russia's huge firepower or tactically withdraw

From CNN's Tim Lister

Ukrainian servicemen ride a bus to their positions in the Luhansk area, Ukraine, on June 19.
Ukrainian servicemen ride a bus to their positions in the Luhansk area, Ukraine, on June 19. (Oleksander Ratushniak/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

As Russian forces close in on the city of Lysychansk, Ukrainian military commanders have an unenviable choice. They can defend the city, block by block, against vastly superior firepower -- or they can withdraw to take up new defensive positions further west.

Defending the city would inevitably mean heavy casualties among both soldiers and the thousands of civilians who are still sheltering there. The Russian bombardment of the city -- like that of neighboring Severodonetsk -- has been largely indiscriminate.

Additionally, the resupply corridor along the T1302 highway to Bakhmut might be cut off, leaving Ukrainian troops surrounded. 

In some places, Russian units advancing from the south are within five kilometers (three miles) of the highway. While other resupply routes are available, they would be difficult and vulnerable. The Institute for the Study of War, in its latest assessment, says; "Russian forces will likely continue to regroup and intensify operations in the area between Bakhmut and Lysychansk to advance toward Lysychansk from an additional axis, sever Ukrainian supply lines, and attempt to consolidate control of the entire Severodonetsk-Lysychansk area in the coming days."

On the other hand, one advantage of staying and fighting in Lysychansk is that it is on higher ground than surrounding areas, and Ukrainian forces would likely to be able to hold back and inflict damage on Russian units for some time -- perhaps weeks. Lysychansk would potentially become another Mariupol. By sucking in Russian units, the city's defenders would probably relieve the pressure on other fronts, such as around Sloviansk. 

The dilemma for the Ukrainian military is an urgent one. As the pocket in Luhansk and Donetsk regions that they defend shrinks, the option of a tactical withdrawal to new lines of defense may not last long.